On Thursday, October 20th, the Capitals took on the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. Coming into the match-up, both teams held a record of 2-0-1, both overtime losses which were the result of extended shootouts.
The Panthers started off their regular season with a win against the New Jersey Devils, followed by a sizable win against the Detroit Red Wings. Just two days ago, the Panthers made a short trip to their intrastate rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they lost in a six round shootout.
Florida is not a team that can be taken lightly. This revamped team has very strong, young talent, as well as skilled veterans to lead the team this season. Aaron Ekblad, who is regarded as one of the best all-around defensemen in the league, is very strong on the blue line for the Panthers team. He has the ability to activate offensively, play smart break-out hockey in his own end, and can easily work the opposition off the puck. Any team that plays against the Cats will have a hard time scoring while Ekblad is on the ice.
Another key young player is 21-year-old Finn, Aleksander Barkov. Drafted second overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, this young Center has been steadily improving his play each season, and the Panthers success reflects that. Last season, his progress was halted when he took a puck to the hand, resulting in a broken bone. Despite missing 16 regular season games in the 2015-16 season, Barkov was able to net 28 goals and 31 assists in the 66 games he played. As it looks so far, his play could lead him to his first point-per-game season.
Veteran Goaltender Roberto Luongo is a name that is well-known throughout the NHL. Despite his ever-increasing age, this durable goalie still plays with the same flexibility and agility that he had in his younger years. Both of Florida’s wins this season have come when Luongo stood in net, allowing only one goal in each game. Luongo currently stands with 438 wins, the most of any active NHL goaltender and sixth all-time for total wins, recently passing Canadians’ legend, Jacques Plante. Luongo is eyeing the fourth most wins of all-time, a feat that he could potentially do this season with the Panthers.
Despite their deep talent, the Panthers have yet to score a powerplay goal so far this season. At the same time, the Panthers are 100% on the penalty kill so far this season, finding an answer for every powerplay against them. The Capitals will have to find the answer to this perfect Florida PK.
The Capitals were coming into this match off of a dominating win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Washington was able to hold the Avalanche to just 18 shots the entire game, while getting off 40 shots on former Capital Netminder Semyon Varlamov.
Washington was finally able to find an answer to their powerplay woes in their match against the Avalanche, netting two PPGs past Varlamov. The first goal was a signature Ovechkin slapshot from the left circle, which went in just over Varlamov’s right pad. T.J. Oshie got his first goal of the season on the second powerplay goal of the night after a perfectly executed give-and-go from Backstrom. Oshie passed the puck to Backstrom, who stood behind Varly’s cage, and immediately made a move towards the net. Backstrom gave the puck right back, and Oshie took a one-time snap shot, which went in the net far-side. Oshie would get another goal in the game after Kuznetsov made a break-out pass to Ovi who went down the ice for a shot. Oshie picked up the rebound and buried it in the back of the net.
As elaborated on in an article written on Wednesday, one of the keys to the Caps’ recent success is their incredible depth. The ice-time differential between the first and fourth line has shrunk considerably, as the third and fourth lines have proved their abilities on the ice. If the team can keep up their amazing chemistry and continue to grind in the offensive zone and generate points, the Caps will be in a good spot this season. Having to rely less on the star players allows the coaching staff to utilize them better, and also reduces the chances of injuries. If the bottom six can continue to perform the way they have been, the Caps will have success this season. The Caps came into tonight’s game with the intention to utilize all four lines as they had in their previous two games.
Justin Williams got his first goal of the season off of a Lars Eller rebound 8:25 into the period. Schmidt and Eller were credited with the assists.
Evgeny Kuznetsov got goal number two for the Caps after deflecting a gentle shot on net from Matt Niskanen.
Mike Matheson got a goal for the Cats, cutting the Caps lead in half. Aleksander Barkov and Keith Yandle were credited with the assist.
Jaromir Jagr got his 750th career goal on a shot that beat Holtby’s glove. Jonathan Marchessault and Aleksander Barkov got the assist on the goal.
The first four minutes of the game were uneventful, hold a shot from Ovechkin which was blockered down by Roberto Luongo. Marcus Johansson received a lead breakout pass from Orlov, which he was able to handle just past the blue line, and got a quick scoring chance on Luongo. Shortly after, the Panthers skated the puck into the Caps zone, where Jagr nearly got a goal, but Holtby was able to move to the left quick enough to save the one-time snapshot.
Andre Burakovsky had one of his prettiest plays of the year so far, when 6:10 into the game he dangled the puck through his legs around defenseman Michael Matheson and got a great shot on Luongo, who was able to glove the shot down and freeze the puck. This was the second time a Capital was able to get a one-on-zero chance against the Panthers, failing to convert both times. The Swedish line stayed on the ice for the next shift, and was able to put offensive pressure on the Panthers and held the zone for about forty seconds before Florida was able to clear and get a line change. The first line for the Caps came onto the ice and got yet another scoring chance when T.J. Oshie rang a hard wrist-shot off of the post.
A quiet third line finally spoke up on the Washington team. Nate Schmidt carried the puck into the zone through the defense and took it to the corner. Schmidt threw the puck to the front of the net, where Justin Williams got the shot. Luongo saved the first attempt, but Williams got a shot off of his own rebound, putting the puck over Luongo’s left pad. This would be Williams’ first goal since March 28th, and the first goal the third line would get for the 2016-17 season. Nate Schmidt got his first point of the regular season.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 21, 2016
Not even three minutes later, the Caps would convert again. Florida failed to clear the puck, which landed directly onto Matt Niskanen’s stick. Niskanen threw the puck in on net, and Kuznetsov was able to deflect the puck over Luongo’s glove and into the net. Kuznetsov would get his first goal of the season on the play. All of a sudden the game was 2-0 Caps.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 21, 2016
Florida was quick to change the momentum when their first line came onto the ice, putting pressure on Holtby and getting two consecutive scoring chances. The Caps would scramble to clear the net, and were able to hold off and clear the zone. The grinding fourth line would come onto the ice on the clear and set up an offensive cycle, but with nothing to show for it.
The Panthers wouldn’t stay scoreless for long, however. Mike Matheson would get a goal on a shot that went through Burakovsky’s legs. Keith Yandle got a pass from Aleksander Barkov and took a shot on Holtby which went wide and wrapped around the boards. Matheson was able to pick the puck quickly off the boards and took a relatively weak shot that went in far-side past an unsuspecting Braden Holtby. Suddenly the Caps’ two goal lead was cut in half with about six minutes left in the first.
With about a minute left in the period, Lars Eller would pick the puck off of Mark Pysyk’s stick and pass the puck to John Carlson at the point. Carlson took a slapshot on Luongo, who was fully screened, but the Panthers’ goalie was able to save and freeze the puck. The period ended with the Caps up 2-1.
Less than two minutes into the period, Lars Eller got the game’s first penalty after he tripped Denis Malgin right after the puck was dropped at center ice. The Panthers quickly started putting pressure on the Caps’ penalty kill with a quick shot from Jonathan Marchessault. Florida would get two quick opportunities on Holtby’s right side, but both times the shot was fanned. The Caps responded with good forechecking on the penalty kill, and were able to come out of the Eller tripping unscathed.
About five minutes in, Denis Malgin beat Brooks Orpik on a one-on-one and got a good shot on Braden Holtby. Holtby was able to save the puck and collect the rebound before the Panthers could get another shot off.
T.J. Oshie got called for a hooking penalty against Jussi Jokinen after the two got tangled up when Jokinen started the Panthers breakout. The Capitals’ penalty kill started off strong, but the Panthers were quick to crash the net about a minute into the powerplay. Colton Sceviour shoveled the puck into the net while falling, but the referee was in the process of blowing the whistle as the puck crossed the goal line. The Caps would stay up by a goal. Florida held the zone for the remainder of the penalty, but the Caps would hold off for their fifth man to rejoin the play.
The first half of the period was all Florida, with two solid powerplay attempts and a near goal that was saved by the ref’s whistle. The Panthers outskated the Caps and had much more offensive zone-time. A bit past the ten minute mark, Nicklas Backstrom had a slapshot on Luongo to give the Caps their first shot in nearly five minutes.
Nick Backstrom got their third penalty of the game after he tripped Shane Harper behind Holtby’s net. A bit over a minute into the penalty kill, Jonathan Marchessault passed the puck down to Barkov, who was sitting below the goal line on Holtby’s left side. Barkov found Jaromir Jagr, who took a one-time snapshot to beat Holtby glove-side, eliminating the Capitals’ lead. This was goal number 750 for Jaromir Jagr.
Washington would continue to struggle in the period after Jagr’s equalizer. The breakouts weren’t working and players kept turning the puck over in neutral territory. Florida controlled the game’s pace the entire second period. The Caps would go into the third period tied 2-2.
Evgeny Kuznetsov failed to receive a pass from Carlson, and would have had no one between him and Luongo. After he missed the pass reception, Kuznetsov took out his frustration on the Panthers’ net, breaking his stick over the crossbar while play was still going on.
The Caps got their first powerplay of the night after defenseman Keith Yandle was called for a hooking minor on Johansson. Backstrom was able to get a good shot from the right circle, but Luongo was able to save the puck with his left shoulder. Burakovsky had the second shot on the powerplay after he took the puck as it bounced off of Kuznetsov’s stick, but Luongo was again able to save the puck. The Capitals put pressure on at the end of the powerplay, getting some good chances and movement around Luongo’s cage, but weren’t able to get a powerplay goal against the Panthers’ perfect PK.
At 7:33 into the period, the Caps got a much-needed goal. Karl Alzner passed the puck across the blue line to Matt Niskanen, who fired a shot in on net. The puck was redirected once before Ovechkin was able to tip the puck and redirect it into the net past Luongo’s left skate. Washington was able to set up some good offensive cycling and zone-time, which was the catalyst to the momentum change needed to regain the league.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 21, 2016
Soon after the goal, Nate Schmidt would take an interference penalty while the Panthers carried the puck into the Caps’ zone two-on-two. Schmidt knocked Vincent Trocheck to the ice while Trocheck was skating to the net without the puck. Trocheck slid into the boards while Holtby froze the puck.
One minute into the penalty kill, Daniel Winnik took a slapshot to the head as he dove down to block a slapshot from the point. Reilly Smith’s shot seemingly hit the side of Winnik’s head. Fortunately, Winnik was able to skate himself off the ice and down to the locker room to be further evaluated.
The penalty was successfully killed one minute later, allowing only one shot on the Panther’s man-advantage. Daniel Winnik would come back out to play later in the game.
Two minutes later, the Caps had a rare two-on-zero opportunity. Justin Williams was able to pass the puck across the ice to Brett Connolly, who redirected the puck on net. Roberto Luongo stood tall and was able to freeze the puck on the play.
The Capitals would continue to successfully break the puck out of their zone and vacate their own zone, nullifying the Panthers’ offense. With only 1:20 left in the game, just before the Panthers could pull Luongo, Marcus Johansson deflected a failed pass from Jason Demers and skated the puck in alone on Luongo. Marcus Johansson scored on the play unassisted, getting his first goal of the season.
Once the Panthers set up their offense, they were finally able to pull Luongo to get a sixth skater on the ice. With about 30 seconds left, Florida called their timeout. Their final offensive attempt was unsuccessful, and the Caps won 4-2.
Justin’s Three Stars
1st: Matt Niskanen
2nd: Aleksander Barkov
3rd: Jaromir Jagr
By Justin Green